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How Learner Experience Design (LXD) Is Changing Leadership Development

This article, written by AllenComm’s Michael Noble, was originally posted on Training Industry.

After decades of leadership development programs following the same basic formula, a new approach is gaining momentum: One that is more focused on the needs of learners and real-world outcomes and less focused on the content itself. What’s behind this shift? While there are many factors, one of them is a growing awareness of the value of learner experience design (LXD).

LXD is the creation of engaging and effective learning journeys that are personalized to the needs of learners. LXD:

  • Recommends a flexible and individualized sequence of formal, informal and social learning experiences.
  • Focuses on building capabilities and skills rather than just knowledge transfer.
  • Provides significant opportunities for practice and reinforcement that carries over into on-the-job performance.

By shifting the focus away from content (including content based on best-selling books or generated by renowned thought leaders) to creating engaging, personalized and impactful learning journeys, LXD makes leadership training more relevant for the learner and more strategic for the organization.

“Leadership learning has always been designed as more of an experience, even before the influence of LXD,” says Ron Zamir, CEO of AllenComm, a leader in designing effective and award-winning leadership training programs. “However, the push to focus on a longer term, holistic experience — one that incorporates multiple channels and learning dimensions — is inspiring organizations to reinvent leadership development for all employees. This includes personal leadership, first-level leadership, mid-level leadership and executive development.”

LXD represents a significant change from the thinking that guided traditional leadership development. The following shifts are representative of the current transformation in leadership learning:

From Passive to Active Learning

While traditional leadership development programs rely heavily on 360-style assessments paired with canned tutorials and lofty descriptions of leadership principles, LXD emphasizes active participation through simulations, case studies and role-playing exercises. Leaders become active problem-solvers, solidifying skills through real-world application specific to their work environment.

Personalization and Microlearning

A learner-centric approach flips the old-school dynamic of the leadership guru imparting wisdom to aspiring leaders. Instead, the learning experience prioritizes the diverse needs of learners and the unique context in which they are working. Personalization can be based on several factors:

  • The participant’s level of leadership.
  • Their role and the business unit within the organization.
  • Any self-assessment or 360-style assessment.
  • Individual progress on the learning journey.
  • Learner performance on simulations.
  • The types of goals that are important to both learners and the organization.

How is this accomplished? Part of the process is to establish what is core to specific levels of leadership and what is optional based on individual skill and performance. For example, microlearning, project-based learning and other activities can be tagged for specific capabilities, allowing the learning technology to dynamically tailor a learning path for a specific learner. There are many ways to achieve this technically (even with a legacy tech ecosystem).

Focus on Engagement

Learner engagement has two components — capturing their attention and soliciting their participation. Engagement is critical to realizing desired learning outcomes because it increases the likelihood that the material presented will be understood, retained and applied on the job. It translates into better performance, fosters a more positive and collaborative learning environment for everyone involved and further motivates learners to continue learning and growing.

The toolbox for engagement activities is also richer than it has been in the past. Research-based practices for skills development, including project-based learning, simulations, goal setting and achievement portfolios, have been difficult to scale in the past. Learning was either confined to the classroom or an eLearning course. Today’s learning technology helps us combine these types of strategies with gamification elements like points and leaderboards, or with cohort learning opportunities through discussion boards, peer coaching, learner-generated content and more.

Technology Integration

While a learner experience platform (LXP) is one way of structuring and managing individual learner journeys, it isn’t the only way. There are other ways, including using a learning management system (LMS) or a combination of legacy technologies and web services. These can provide learners with a central hub to track their progress and visualize their experience.

Performance-Based Learning

Another key aspect of experience design is emphasizing on-the-job application of learned skills. Action learning projects allow leaders to implement new practices and receive feedback from coaches or peers, leading to measurable behavior change. It is important for the learners to be able to set goals, not simply for learning but for on-the-job application. Meetings with a mentor can help define an impact plan that aligns learner goal-setting with the needs of the organization.

Focus on Impact

Up-front alignment of skills and outcomes to specific learning experiences shifts the focus from the learning journey to a leadership journey grounded in real business results. By aligning program goals with organizational objectives, leaders can track the impact of their development through metrics like improved team performance, increased employee engagement or enhanced customer satisfaction.

Placing the learner experience at the center can be easier to conceptualize than it is to operationalize. Anna Sargsyan, chief learning officer at AllenComm, describes it like this: “We often need to balance organization-prescribed learning with experiences that are personalized and prioritized by learners. This strategy not only achieves organizational goals but also enriches the entire learning journey, creating a more engaging environment and cultivating a culture of continuous learning.”